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Garment unions seek pay rise

Garment unions seek pay rise

Labour union coalition says $50 per month is insufficient

A COALITION of four pro-government labour unions has called on the government and garment factories to boost garment workers' minimum wage by more than 80 percent.

The Committee for Fair Wages said Wednesday that the minimum monthly wage of US$50 was insufficient and should be increased to $93 to encourage workers to stay in the sector.

Committee spokesman Chuon Momthol told a press conference in Phnom Penh that the cost of living meant workers could not afford to work for less than $93 a month.

"We are trying to persuade buyers to raise their orders so that factory owners can increase the salaries they pay their workers," he said. "I believe workers will stop working in the factories if their salaries cannot support them, and that will lead to the death of Cambodia's garment-manufacturing sector."

Chuon Momthol said garment workers currently earn just $1.93 per day, less than the minimum $3 a day that the National Institute of Statistics calculated is necessary to ensure an adequate standard of living.

"And so, we are asking that employers pay $93 as a basic salary, and we will convey our request to them by August this year," Chuon Momthol said. "These days, workers aren't getting any overtime, which means they can't survive without a reasonable salary."

But an official from the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), an industry body, said that the global economic downturn meant its members would likely be unable to comply, as factories also face serious problems.

"The government has taken action to help the garment sector and cut expenses incurred by employers by suspending the [0.8 percent] benefit tax [paid to the National Security Fund]," Cheath Khemara said. "If the unions want us to increase workers' salaries then they are pushing the situation in the wrong direction. Any discussion about adding costs should be shelved at this time."

A recent report from the Ministry of Labour Affairs and Vocational Training revealed that 46 factories closed in the first quarter of 2009 with the loss of 21,400 jobs.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the ministry, said the unions' request could not be considered as the country was badly affected by the global economic crisis.

"Workers should consider basing their demands on reality and should refrain from excessive requests because the situation in our country is still bad," said Oum Mean.

Kanwar Preet Singh, the country representative of PULS Trading Far East Limited, a major intermediary representing global brands such as Adidas, Nike, Levi's, Gap and Puma in dealing with local factories, said that he hopes the government will insist only in compliance with the existing wage law while the threat from the global economic crisis was ongoing.

"But if the law requires that workers are paid $93 a month, then we will respect the law," Mr Singh said.

Last year, the government authorised a $6 monthly increase for workers in the garment sector to combat hardships.

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